On May 17, research information company Clarivate announced it will acquire ProQuest for $5.3 billion—the largest transaction in the library sector to date.
The acquisition means a change of ownership for ProQuest but will not substantially affect the products and services purchased by libraries since Clarivate’s products and services do not typically compete in the library market. As part of Clarivate, ProQuest and its technology businesses Ex Libris and Innovative Interfaces potentially gain access to resources that will strengthen its capacity in product development and support. Acquisition documents state that the companies expect to save $100 million in annual operational costs by streamlining facilities, technology infrastructure, and personnel.
The deal is anticipated to close in the third quarter of 2021. In the interim, both businesses must operate with no internal collaboration, as defined by US regulations applicable to public companies.
The acquisition price will be split between $4 billion in cash and $1.3 billion in Clarivate stock, representing about a 7% ownership stake. ProQuest is currently owned by investment firms Cambridge Information Group and Atairos.
Expanding workflow and analytics
Clarivate falls within a category of businesses that provide tools for workflows and analytics for scholarly research. Its peers include Digital Science, as well as Elsevier and other companies that started primarily as scholarly publishers and shifted their emphasis to workflow and analytics.
Academic libraries play an important role in the scientific research cycle and are increasingly interested in being involved in earlier stages of research, such as offering services that can strengthen institutional research capacity. These services, tools, and technologies have traditionally been acquired through an institution’s office of research. Clarivate’s ownership potentially enables academic libraries to gain a stronger position in institutional research.
Clarivate and ProQuest’s combined products could help institutions at every stage of the scientific research process, from the initial funding phase to final outputs (in the form of scholarly papers) to academic libraries using that content to inform new research. A key part of the value proposition of this deal involves assembling a more comprehensive set of tools for scientific research that benefits research organizations and their libraries.
Perspective and predictions
In contrast with other takeovers and contraction seen in the library technology industry in recent years, Clarivate’s acquisition of ProQuest will not mean less competition, as the two companies offer complementary products. When direct competitors within a product segment merge, consumer choices narrow. (Though, products tend to persist in the library field, even when vendors consolidate.) With no directly competing products, this deal will likely not eliminate options on either the content or technology fronts, and therefore is not expected to be perceived as anticompetitive—unlike Ex Libris’s recent acquisition of Innovative Interfaces, which triggered a review by the Federal Trade Commission.
On the library technology front, becoming part of Clarivate is consistent with ProQuest’s product strategies. Ex Libris, for example, has followed a trend of continually extending the reach of its software solutions. Its Alma library services platform supports the management of resources within the library, with Primo providing access to patrons. In recent years, Ex Libris has launched additional products that continue this expansion, such as Leganto (which integrates library materials for classroom use) and Esploro (which provides services in support of research activities and outputs). Ex Libris describes its technology scope as cloud-based solutions for higher education. As part of Clarivate, these cloud services seem positioned for further reach into the scholarly communications infrastructure and will be able to benefit from data and services within the Clarivate product portfolio.
Becoming part of a business based on workflow and analytics brings implications for ProQuest and its library customers. Data and analytics wield great power to inform and optimize business processes. Such power must be harnessed within the bounds of professional values and privacy policies. These values and policies may not always be consistent among the commercial sector, educational institutions, and the library community. Beyond this business change, the role of analytics continues to be an important conversation in the library and education sphere.